Circle of Creation; Photo Credit: Glenn Davidson

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON March 15th 2018

John Abberger and Marco Cera; Photo Credit: Glenn Davidson


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The sinfonias sparkled with the lively, concerted bowing of the strings, the tempi well chosen and the rhythms exciting. Bach’s third Brandenburg concerti was brilliant. The chorales were captivating. None of this was surprising. The players of Tafelmusik are first-rate musicians, specialising in the baroque period, and they play the music of Bach very, very well. They do not disappoint.

The special feature of tonight's performance, which will be repeated, but which is nearly sold out (so act quickly), is that Bach's music was presented within a larger context. Focusing on Leipzig, the city in which J.S. Bach lived the longest, a live narration with video explained to the audience how paper was made, how sheep intestines were turned into violin strings, the process of making wire, the materials that went into ink, and what kinds of wood were used for musical instruments. Bach was friends with instrument makers in Leipzig. We learned that Bach and his collegium of instruments performed in a Leipzig café. The video showed the turning of boxwood blocks on a lathe to make the bores of woodwind instruments. In fact new woodworking techniques in the baroque period made it possible for woodwind instruments to be given a conical shape, which sharpened the sound and made it bigger, compared with the cylindrical bores in the renaissance period (the only possibility in that period). The narrator, an excellent, clear speaker, read an English translation of Leipzig’s sumptuary laws, which named the city’s social classes, and indicated what each class was allowed to wear.

Bach knew the instrument makers in Leipzig, and spent time with them. My cousin wondered whether the Leipzig string players had not ordered their instruments from Italian makers, and indeed Bach’s predecessor, Johann Kuhnau, once referred to Italy as the site of the high point of music in the world, but the Leipzig musicians used instruments that had been made locally. All of the video was accompanied by live musical performance.

The whole evening was well designed, filled with beautiful music, and informative. Catch the production in Toronto before it goes on tour; you’ll be very glad you did! Circle of Creation will be repeated at 8pm on March 15th 16th and 17th 2018 and at 3pm on March 18th at Trinity-St.Paul's Centre.

J.S. Bach in Context: Tafelmusik’s Circle of Creation Production

Circle of Creation; Photo Credit: Glenn Davidson

The musical performances were outstanding. Playing from memory, the strings and woodwinds moved casually around the stage, coming to the front for solos, grouping together for trios, and generally interacting. Oboists John Abberger and Marco Cera were superb on their period instruments. Music Director Elisa Citterio and the violinists were dazzling. The bass instruments provided the firm harmonic foundation that allowed the high instruments to soar (double bassist Alison Mackay  indeed conceived, programmed and scripted Circle of Creation). Harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger not only played the continuo (the part that is usually in the background, and heard as a kind of rhythmic shimmering, but without which baroque music is a non-starter) flawlessly, she also had solo parts, including a sensitive performance of part of Bach's Goldberg Variations.